For our Best Books of 2019 podcast Ali was once again joined by Publishing Scotland’s Vikki Reilly to have a chat about their year in books.
As well as discussing in detail their personal favourites they look at the writers who have left their mark, awards and award winners, festivals old and new, the healthy state of Scottish poetry, the continuing prosperity of crime fiction, what’s happening in the publishing world, the prevailing trends and themes of 2019, what to look forward to in 2020, and a whole lot more. Although they don’t quite manage to cover everything they give it a right good go and we hope you’ll find something to pique your interest.
This is always one of the most pleasant podcasts to record as the two geek out on their love of books. It’s also the perfect companion piece to our earlier post The Good Word: SWH!’s 10 Best Books Of 2019… where you’ll be able to link to reviews of many of the books and writers that Vikki and Ali discuss.
And don’t forget to check out the Books from Scotland website for more of the best of Scottish books (the latest issue has lots of suggestions for Christmas).
If you are new round these parts there is quite a substantial back-catalogue of podcasts for you to discover. If you aren’t yet a subscriber you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes, on Podbean, with Spotify, or by RSS (but you’ll need to have an RSS reader to do so).
You can also download the podcast by clicking on the relevant link to the right of this post, or, if you want it right here, right now, you can listen on SoundCloud…
..or on YouTube:
You can listen to our Best Music of 2019 podcast here, and the Best Films of 2019 will be with you soon…
If ever a novel deserved a long life it is Kirstin Innes‘ Fishnet. A winner of The Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize, and one of The Independent’s Top 10 Debut Fiction Books of 2015, it was, like far too many others, a casualty of the liquidation of Freight Books. So it is most welcome news that it is being republished by Black & White Publishing, in a beautiful new edition, which makes it the perfect time to republish the SWH! review of Fishnet from 2015*. Having read it again, we stand by every word:
As if confirmation was needed, the 50 Shades phenomenon proved once more that when it comes to fiction, sex sells. It was also a timely reminder that there are too few novelists prepared to write seriously about sex. This is particularly true with regard to the sex industry and those who work in it, both of which are all too often stigmatised and stereotyped without a second thought.
Kirstin Innes’ novel Fishnet gives the subject the serious consideration it deserves, and in doing so she has written a book which will challenge the reader, making them reassess what they thought they knew as it refuses to offer easy answers but raises many uncomfortable questions. If after reading you haven’t reviewed your own attitudes, to the selling of sex and so much more, then I’m afraid it says more about you than it does Fishnet. Continue reading
*You can listen to P.K. Lynch talking about Armadillos on the Scots Whay Hae! Podcast by clicking here…
In our recent podcast with novelist Iain Maloney we spoke about a writer’s responsibility when tackling certain subjects. In Maloney’s case, his novel The Waves Burn Bright deals with events surrounding the Piper Alpha North Sea Oil Platform tragedy, and he talked about the importance of making sure his research was thorough and his prose unsensational so as to avoid any possible accusations of exploitation or disrespect.
It’s something that James Robertson and Kirstin Innes have also spoken to us about with reference to their novels The Professor Of Truth and Fishnet, books which examine the Lockerbie bombing and the sex industry respectively. Writers have a responsibility to their subject as well as their readers, and with some subjects that responsibility should be taken very seriously indeed. It’s a difficult balancing act to pull off, to tell an engaging story while respecting those who you are wishing to draw attention to, but when a writer gets it right it can be far more affecting than any mere reportage or documentary.
Armadillos is the story of 15-year-old Texan Aggie, who is described as “a ‘sub’ from a ‘sub’ family”, which means she is at the bottom of a food chain where food is scarce to begin with. Literary theorist Antonio Gramsci used the term ‘subaltern’ to refer to those who belonged to groups of people denied power and wealth by the ruling classes. They are those who struggle to have their voices heard, so often cease trying. If you are considered a ‘sub’ within such a group, then in common parlance you are viewed within, and often without, that group as the ‘lowest of the low’. Continue reading
You may have had your fill already of ‘Books Of The Year’ lists already, but we like to think that Scots Whay Hae’s selection is small, beautifully formed and well worthy of your attention.
These are the books which stood out against a lot of stiff competition in 2015. It could have been longer but we decided to stick to the traditional Top Ten. Consisting mostly of novels ,with a couple of music biographies thrown in, these books will take you to North Korea, Detroit, the Firth of Forth, the 17th century and Millport. Taken as a whole they are a testament to the breadth of artistic and cultural imagination at large in Scotland today. Need further convincing? Here’s what we thought at the time:
A Book Of Death And Fish – Ian Stephen
There is a geographically thorough representation of Scotland as well as a historic and cultural one as we are taken from Shetland to the Solway Firth, West Coast to East Coast, and all around the coast as well. The land and the sea; the one constantly affecting the other, and this relationship comes to define Peter MacAulay’s life… This is an epic novel in more ways than one, but then this is the story of a man from cradle to grave and as such it deserves due consideration. Some people may be put off by the scale, but the writing is concise, accessible and memorable. Give it your time and you will not regret it for one moment. You may well think back on your own life in a different manner as a result.
Rise – Karen Campbell
Campbell is a writer who always manages to wrong foot you, seemingly for fun, and the results are never less than thrilling. She builds tension, often unbearably, as lies are threatened to be uncovered, and, even worse, so is the truth. All of her characters are fully developed and all-too believable, and this makes you take closer notice than you may have done otherwise as the various dilemmas unfold. You can not be a passive reader of a Karen Campbell novel. She refuses to let you. Rise is steeped in Scottish culture, but makes no big deal about it, just as it should be. Primarily it is a novel which is thought-provoking and involving, and never less than thoroughly entertaining. Spread the word; Karen Campbell has quietly become one of Scotland’s very best writers, and deserves to be considered as such. Consider it done.
The latest podcast sees Ali in conversation with writer and journalist Kirstin Innes. The primary reason was to discuss her terrific debut novel Fishnet, but, as inevitably happens, talk turns to other matters as well, including the repercussions of the closing of The Arches, the future of the arts in Scotland, and the importance of spoken word events.
Kirstin has been one of the central figures in Scottish cultural life for some time, working at the aforementioned Arches, as a journalist at The List magazine, and helping to establish and grow many of your favourite annual events such as the Glasgow Film Festival. During this time she somehow managed find the time to write Fishnet and she explains how the book changed from something initially very (very) different, how she approached her research, and the lengthy process which led to the novel’s eventual publication earlier this year. Since then it has received wide-spread critical acclaim, recently winning the Not The Booker Prize.
If you want to know more you can read the Scots Whay Hae! review here and you can hear Kirstin read from and talk about Fishnet this Thursday (19th) at Waterstones on Byres Road in Glasgow (see right), but I suggest you pour a drink, put your feet up and listen to the podcast first.
For the past decade or so, I’ve been counting down my years in Edinburgh Book Festivals rather than birthdays. It’s a much less painful system, it means over two weeks of celebration, and the real birthday is in there somewhere for traditionalists.
While the Fringe rages all around it, this festival is an oasis of bookish bonhomie populated by like-minded folk, all obsessed with the written word. The festival team know they have a formula which works, so don’t overly tinker with it. The secret of that success? Invite the best writers available and get them to talk about their books all in the one place. What could be better?
This year it all happens between the 15th – 31st August, and, as usual, there’s far too much of the good stuff to mention it all here. I suggest reading the whole programme at edbookfest.co.uk, but not before you’ve read Scots Whay Hae’s preview of this year’s festival.
Scotland’s greatest writers are out in force, with Ali Smith and John Burnside leading the way on the opening weekend. If you have to beg, borrow and steal to see those two (and you may have to) then no jury in the land would convict you. Janice Galloway has a new collection of short stories, Jellyfish, which I highly recommend and she is always worth listening to. Others include previous SWH! podcast guests Louise Welsh, James Robertson, and Karen Campbell whose latest novel Rise is one of the best of the year so far. Michel Faber appears on the 29th, the author of Under the Skin and last year’s unforgettable The Book of Strange New Things. The day before, the equally charismatic Andrew O’Hagan will be talking about the inspiration behind his latest novel The Illuminations.
As if we ever needed confirmation, the recent 50 Shades phenomenon proved once more that when it comes to fiction, sex sells. It was also a timely reminder that there are too few novelists prepared to write seriously about sex. This is particularly true with regard to the sex industry and those who work in it, both of which are all too often stigmatised and stereotyped without a second thought. Kirstin Innes’ novel Fishnet gives the subject the serious consideration it deserves, and in doing so she has written a book which will challenge the reader, making them reassess what they thought they knew as it refuses to offer easy answers but raises many uncomfortable questions. If after reading you haven’t reviewed your own attitudes, to the selling of sex and so much more, then I’m afraid it says more about you than it does Fishnet.
Over four years in the writing, Innes has spoken about how the research for Fishnet challenged and changed her own thoughts as she interviewed women who were involved in the industry in one way or another. As the book makes apparent, this is a world which by necessity has to be secretive and suspicious, and to be able to write so convincingly about it suggests an all too rare rigour in the research and a responsibility to the subject. This care is clear as every character is individual, with their own back stories and diverse opinions on life as well as work. By creating blogs, websites, social media, and including accompanying comments, Innes creates this diversity in a manner which is easy to identify with and completely believable. Such characterisation may seem like a given for any decent novel, but consider the stereotypes all too easily applied to sex workers, neatly expressed in that title, Fishnet, and you’ll realise how rare this is.